THE RENEWED INTEREST OF TACCUINI INTERNAZIONALI FOR LOW NOVARA AND VERCELLI, HAS BROUGHT US BACK TO CASALBELTRAME (NO) AND ITS INSTITUTIONS, BORN FOR KEEPING THE LAND, CULTURE AND PRODUCTS’ TRADITION ALIVE, TODAY RELIVED ALSO BY MATCHING GASTRONOMY WITH ONE OF THE RICHEST ETHNOGRAPHIC MUSEUMS IN THE TERRITORY.
WE PROPOSE YOU THIS ARTICLE BY ELIANA FRONTINI, WHO HAS DISCOVERED ALL ITS SECRETS, AND TELLS THEM TO US WITH THE PASSION OF SOMEONE WHO LOVES HIS LAND.
Casalbeltrame, Cascinale dei Nobili. On the background, in the wings, the so-called “Matrioska Churches”, arts and trades workshops.
CASALBELTRAME, A MIRACLE OF ARCHITECTURAL RESTORATION.
Casalbeltrame is a small village, fifteen kilometres far from Novara.
It emerges out of the rice fields with few houses squeezed around the church, like in all villages of our province. Why then suggesting a visit? Why talking about it? Because…because Casalbeltrame is an absolute surprise. It’s a miracle of architectural and landscape recovery operated in the years by cultural associations, by an enlightened administration, by private citizens who have believed in our traditions and have decided not to let them be forgotten.
Casalbeltrame, Cascinale dei Nobili, the big court, inside which many works of art converse with the agricultural structures existing.
In Casalbeltrame you can spend a day between nature, culture, wine and food… and much more. On the 11th of November 2006, the Ethnographic Museum of the Agricultural Tool has been launched in Casalbeltrame, as a new reality that relies on the territory’s cultural restoration. The Museum rises in the village centre, inside of Cascinale dei Nobili, a splendid example of agricultural farmstead in Novara’s plain. Built in 1650 by Gautieri family , it had its moment of greatest splendour between the 18th and the 19th Century, but suffered a sudden decline after the extinction of the owners. Today, thanks to a very good architectural recovery, it offers a spectacular scenery of great artistic value. The Ethnographic Museum takes up the farmstead’s ex barn and offers the really enthraling experience of reliving the farmer’s year from S. Martino day on, through sounds, repertory images and videos. You can hear the animals’verses, the plough on the desolate winter land, the threshing machine’s noise, the grandparents’ stories during the watches in the stables…The farmhouse, inside the matrioska churches,hosts some workshops (a calcography shop, an Art-Gei workshop of decoration and carpentry) which rediscover the direct clash of the artist with the material. Casalbeltrame has joined the International network of Slow-Cities, in 2001.
Casalbeltrame, Cascinale dei Nobili, the big court and farmstead today become Ethnographic Museum, which tells “stories of land and efforts”
Being a solw-city means to operate and have operated in the course of time in your own territory, protecting and improving your local identity. In the case of Casalbeltrame, local identity means agricultural tradition, but also ancient history, made out of spirituality and power. Casalbeltrame’s area, since the early Christian age, has become an outpost of christianization, marking the birth of religious brotheroods, the ones of San Pietro in Bozzolo, San Pietro in Pullis, Santo Stefano, San Bernardino, and San Novello. At the end of 1100, exactly in 1173, Knights Templar came and transformed Sant’Apollinare, a few kilometres far from Casalbeltrame, in a travel station.
Casalbeltrame: in the second court inside Cascinale dei Nobili, under the portico, a reddish purple convertible Topolino, which well testifies the permanence, still during the post-war period, of an active agricultural culture, ready to emancipate in the mass motorization era,
which will constitute the beginning of its decline.
And, between all of this, the Abbey of San Nazaro Sesia was built. In this proliferation of spirituality our lands gained power and, considered that alongside of the Abbey there was the only ford to cross Sesia river, a horde of armies, pilgrims, merchants coming from the West met the travellers who were moving along the ancient street of Biandrina, which connected Valsesia to Liguria.
Casalbeltrame: since the year of the foundation of the Ethnographic Museum, art exhibitions collateral to it alternate, organized by Materia Association.
In the course of time the religious brotherood acquired the task of offering board and lodging and assistance to the multitude of travellers, and this fact marked the development of Casalbeltrame’s village. The five churches that edge the only, wonderful square in Casalbeltrame, three of which transported from the country and rebuilt in loco (called matrioska churches… if you want to discover the reason, you must go to Casalbeltrame!) are the symbolic recollection of that moment for this small rural village, and are there to testify this ancient story.
It is INTERNATIONAL NOTEBOOKS’ intention to bring to Casalbeltrame international tourism too, with the purpose of getting a total improvement of Novara’s territory, of its plain and hill products, and of the cultural and artistic itineraries which distinguish and characterize it, all still to be oriented within a unitary logic of “typical product”.
The structure has a restaurant inside, and Poderìa, a slow-food shop where they periodically organize tastings of typical products of the village and the towns joining slow-food chain.
On the other side of the street we can find Villa Gautieri, site of a plaster casts gallery, and of the private art gallery “Materima”, which offers the emotion of a direct contact with works created by great artists like Pomodoro, Massin, Manzù, consolidating the edifying value of art, and showing the unusual union of art and agricultural tradition. Watching over the great sculpted works, a wonderful specimen of male Gimko Biloba, national estate. In Casalbeltrame there is then the oasis marsh, which reaches out for about 640 hectares. The area is destined to reactivate an ancient site of overwintering and nesting of the migratory avifauna. With a work program, the Park Authority wants to recover and restructure the marsh, creating in the meantime some structures usable for didactic activities and naturalistic observation. But is there a common denominator that connects all these structures? Yes, of course there is, and it’s definitely important: it is called artis pagus (village of art), which means building a place where you can give life back to manual skills, activities relative to effort, constant work year by year, like the agricultural one.
Casalbeltrame: the big sculpture brands Cascinale dei Nobili’s square, current sign of strong artistic-cultural vocations
and inclinations of the village and its institutions.
Casalbeltrame’s farmhouses lived in a regime of autarchy: anything that was necessary for surviving was produced in loco. After centuries, this idea comes back with slow-Cities, which testify how living slowly is one of the most important things, together with the conservation of memory: from the environmental one of the oasis, to the respect for the small producers’ labour who can use also bioenergies. The set up of the oasis, in particular, has meant a new way of intending agricolture, lived in the highes respect for the environment. The basic idea is revaluing the “knowing how to make” , which goes well together with every structure in Casalbeltrame, and with the events periodically organized. During the bread festival, for example, they want to invite participants to rediscover the joy of making it by hand, instead of buying the finished product. Giving centrality back to the “knowing how to make” in family, and then at school, with the rediscovery of didactic paths that teach a professionalism: also in this case, a recovery of the values of the past, when “ knowing how to make” meant managing to survive.
Novara, July 2010-08-25
Text by Eliana Frontini
Also published on “Nuovo Sestante”, n. 40 August-September 2010-08-25
(pictures and captions by Enrico Mercatali)
Transalation from italian by Penelope Mirotti
See also the article in TACCUINI INTERNAZIONALI’S ARCHIVE about the same topic, July 2010